Top Ten Films of 2018

We have officially begun the new year which means we can now take a look back at the best films 2018 had to offer. Last year was a good year for movies, and narrowing it down to 10 is certainly no easy task. In no way am I saying that the following ten films are the absolute best of 2018. This list is my personal opinion of the ten best films of 2018. The technical merits of each film are certainly considered, but I am not an expert. With that in mind let’s get to it…

  1. Eighth GradeegWhat is there to say about this movie that hasn’t been said? This is the best film of 2018. In his directorial debut Bo Burnham managed to deliver one of the 2018’s most heartbreaking, yet endearing films. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, and I felt inspired. Bo Burmham uses an awkward and painful stage of life as a vehicle to discuss and portray larger issues such as a the role of social media in our lives, a sense of belonging, the approval of others, and most importantly: anxiety disorders. This is a film that I wholly believe our society needed as Eighth Grade portrays anxiety in a way that no other film has before. Eighth Grade is more likely to resonate with certain viewers more than others, but it is still a deeply important film with its haunting portrayal of anxiety and what it’s like to struggle with it. Thanks to a fantastic performance from Elsie Fisher, Burnham’s natural direction and a perfectly written script by Burnham (seriously, how did he write an eighth grade girl so well?), Eighth Grade was one cinema’s greatest triumphs in 2018.
  2. A Quiet Placea_quiet_place_still_1Similar to Get Out last year, A Quiet Place is a film that couldn’t stop thinking about from the moment I saw it. A Quiet Place is not only an example of masterful filmmaking, but it is thrillingly entertaining. It is nice to see the trend of original horror films continue as director John Krasinski gave us one of the best films of 2018. While a suspension of disbelief is required, I had absolutely no problem buying into this movie’s premise. The use of sound design and sound mixing is nothing short of incredible. The sparse amount of dialogue allowed John Krasinski and the filmmaking crew to tell the film’s narrative through visuals, sound, and American Sign Language. Even if you thought the idea of the monsters was silly you have to respect the craft of this movie. Emily Blunt unsurprisingly gives a great performance as does the rest of the cast, John Krasinski proves that he may just be a more interesting director than he is an actor, and overall A Quiet Place is easily one of the most exciting and unique moviegoing experiences of the year. Oh, and this film also proved you can watch a movie, enjoy it, and read subtitles at the same time.
  3. The Favouritethe-favourite-emma-stone-rachel-weisz-1The Favourite won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I really enjoyed this movie. Director Yorgos Lanthimos returns with a more overtly funny film this time as opposed to his previous absurdist dark comedy work like The Lobster (which was in my top 10 for 2016). Despite being a period piece this might be Lanthimos’ most relevant work to date. This film is a comedic send up of the detached nature of royals that is fully brought to life thanks to a stellar ensemble cast. Olivia Colman steals the show but it cannot be overstated how great this cast is. Despite Yorgos Lanthimos not having a role in the screenwriting duties, The Favourite very much feels like his film. It is his voice in this movie and it features pristine direction. If you’re a fan of the masterpiece theater genre, I highly recommend you watch this film as it is clever, riveting, and a hilariously good time.
  4. First Manfirst-man1.jpgFirst Man was one of my most anticipated films of 2018, and it did not disappoint. Damien Chazelle returns to direct a thought provoking and intimate look at the first man to walk on the moon. Chazelle proves he is the real deal following up his previous Oscar winning films Whiplash and the masterful La La Land by giving us the best look at the psyche of Neil Armstrong. Ryan Gosling’s performance is a highlight as the role really lends itself to Gosling’s natural abilities. Gosling perfectly portrays the stoic, complex man that we never knew. The scale and size of this movie is impressive as well. It was thrilling to watch in IMAX. The scenes featuring space travel are where the movie truly shines – no film has portrayed the dangers and excitement quite like First Man. This film does a great job at giving us an idea of what it felt like in the space craft. Every hour was life-threatening and the trip itself was utterly perilous. It packs quite a punch. Damien Chazelle made a statement.
  5. Isle of Dogs3-28_movies1_-_isle_of_dogsWell this movie was just delightful. Isle of Dogs marks a triumphant return to animation for Wes Anderson. Featuring a talented voice cast, Anderson’s perfectly symmetrical dollhouse aesthetic, and great stop motion animation – Isle of Dogs is the perfect blend of an enjoyable family film combined with artistic filmmaking. This is everything a movie should be. It offers an escape for two hours while also delivering a universal message about love and loyalty to our pets. If you’re a dog lover, this film is a must see. It is an absolute joy from start to finish. It’s quite something to see the magnetic effect dogs have on us. Isle of Dogs is witty, charismatic, and wonderfully imaginative.
  6. Annihilationannihilation.jpgAnnihilation is a film that was unfortunately lost in the shuffle of the VOD experiment early in the year. Not a lot of people watched this movie, but those that did have no regrets. This is a thinking man’s sci-fi, and it should come as no surprise considering Alex Garland (Ex Machina) took the reigns as director. This film has beautiful visuals, visceral thrills, and strikingly weird. Although it can be pretty nightmarish at times, Annihilation is what science fiction should be: it has considerable thematic heft and will leave you questioning the human condition and your own self-destructive habits at the end.
  7. Sorry to Bother Yousorry_to_bother_you___still_1_37952712494_o.0.jpgThis is the kind of movie you watch and by the end you find yourself feeling glad that it exists. Sorry to Bother You is the very essence of the art of film. It pushes the medium forward. First time director Boots Riley struck gold with this surrealist comedy that deals with themes of capitalism and false consciousness. This film features the best Armie Hammer performance and offers other great performances from Tessa Thompson and LaKeith Stanfield. There is one conceit in this film that you need to buy into, but if you do, I think it’s impossible not to enjoy this film. Sorry to Bother You is wildly ambitious, funny, original, and offers a fresh new voice from Boots Riley in a strong directorial debut.
  8. You Were Never Really HereywnrhYou Were Never Really Here is a haunting character study. Joaquin Phoenix gives one of his better performances in recent years. This is a lean movie. This is a tight, intense 90 minute minute film. There is no filler, and not a single minute is wasted. This film is unabashedly violent, but not a single drop of blood is wasted. Every brutal act in this film serves a narrative purpose, and that is perhaps what makes this movie so impressive. It is a taut movie with every single action in service of the plot and character. Lynne Ramsay gives us an uncompromising vision here as there is very little room to breathe, but the film is so compelling that you won’t mind.
  9. Hearts Beat Loudheartsbeatloud-clemons-offerman-recordstore-700x339.jpgOne of the most genuine and heartfelt films of 2018, Hearts Beat Loud gives us a familiar but sweet take on the father / daughter drama. This movie may feel familiar, but it’s also comfortable, and it’s that element of comfort that makes this such a feel good movie. The film is also elevated by the chemistry between Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, both of whom are at their best here. This movie is free spirited and shows how music can bring us together. Hearts Beat Loud may feel low stakes, but it is a wonderful look at the complex and fragile father / daugher relationship dynamic with music at the heart of it all.
  10. Hereditaryhereditary_GROUP_TABLE_029_3_rgb.0.jpgYikes. All I have to say is yikes. This movie terrified me. I’m not the biggest horror fan, so for me to have Hereditary on my list speaks volumes about its quality. Hereditary is the rare art house horror film that finds a wide audience. It navigates some heavy themes such as mental illness, family secrets, alienation, and unwanted inheritance. Hereditary is so profoundly horrifying that I’ve only watched it twice, but both times I had nothing but respect and admiration for this film. Everything from Ari Aster’s direction, to the lighting, to the cinematography, to the score elevates this movie into greatness. Toni Collette also delivers one of the most emotionally disturbing and powerful performances of the year. She deserves an Oscar nomination for it.

I have a few honorary mentions that just missed out on making the list:

American Animals, Incredibles 2, Searching, If Beale Street Could Talk, Roma, and First Reformed.

 

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‘A Star is Born’ is Far From the Shallow

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Some stories in Hollywood will never get old. Evidently A Star is Born is one of those timeless stories that Hollywood will tell again and again. A story about fame, celebrity, dreams, and art will always have a place in the film industry. This year’s A Star is Born marks the third retelling of the classic story since the original 1937 film adaptation. While film buffs will argue until the end of time whether the 1937 or the 1954 version is better (even though it’s clearly the 1937 version), the 2018 iteration of A Star is Born sees the film return to the music industry setting of the 1976 version.

I did my best to avoid all of the pre-release hype and early awards season chatter in order to view this film with fresh eyes, and I’m happy to say it’s a pretty good movie. If you’ve seen any of the earlier incarnations of this story, the foundation of the plot remains the same. A male star is in the twilight of his career when he meets a starry-eyed newcomer and helps her reach the heights of stardom. It is a timeless tale of story of love, fame, sacrifice, and addiction.

There was a lot of talk about Lady’s Gaga’s performance in A Star is Born. I read several social media reactions that called it a breakthrough performance, while others called her a revelation. In a part crafted specifically for her, and I think she gives a good enough performance. She wasn’t bad by any means, but I don’t know if I agree with the predictions of movie stardom ahead. Lady Gaga possesses the ability to fill this specific role thanks to the the tutelage of her costar and director, Bradley Cooper. However, Lady Gaga’s vocals are a different matter as her voice has the same power and potency it did during the peak of her musical career. She really shines during the musical performances. It is Bradley Cooper who deserves the honors here. Cooper delivers what may be the best performance of his career as Jackson Maine. He completely sells the part of an alcoholic drug addict country music star. He does this in part by lowering his voice an octave and slurring his speech. Bradley Cooper does such a fantastic job in his role that I found myself feeling legitimate concern for his character’s behavior. Surprisingly, Cooper’s vocals are quite good as well – especially in the show-stealing “Maybe It’s Time.” It’s quite impressive that Cooper directed himself while also starring in the movie. Sam Elliot is well cast but underutilized as Jackson Maine’s brother. Elliot delivers a good performance with what he was given to work with. Meanwhile, Andrew Dice Clay gets a chance to shine as Gaga’s loving and supportive father. He gives the movie a nice sense of levity and is the dad we all want. One of the best performances comes from one of the smallest roles in Dave Chapelle. Chapelle nearly steals the entire film in one scene, and his character really highlights the importance of supporting roles as they help give movies a sense of realism and intimacy.

In addition to starring in the film, Bradley Cooper also directed A Star is Born. Cooper is a natural behind the camera as he handles the material confidently and deftly stages the musical sequences. I admire Cooper’s restraint as it would have been all too easy to fall into the trap of shooting the musical performances like music videos with rapid cutting and close ups, but he elects to take a step back and let the songs breathe and stand on their own. The camera is very dynamic during the performances and that really helps them come to life. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography stands out as well as he really brings us up close for the many emotional scenes between Cooper and Gaga. The scenes are gorgeously shot and lit very well. Cooper and Gaga are cast in bold colors with high saturation that make them look glamorous despite being covered in sweat. This makes for some powerful imagery.

A Star is Born has it flaws and most of them lie in the screenplay. For the most part the movie is competently written as it handles the darker and heavier themes fairly well. However, there is one scene towards the end of the movie that really misses the mark. The movie misses a few narrative beats here and there, but there is one scene in particular at the end of the film that really didn’t work. This mistake is made more obvious because it’s clearly a subject that the movie wanted to comment on and it simply failed to do so.

Ultimately, this movie may come down to a generational as younger audience members may have no knowledge of the earlier films. This isn’t an issue as you shouldn’t have to take an introduction course to watch a movie. However, if you do remember any of the previous versions of this film you may miss the intrigue of the 1937 and 1954 iterations. Additionally, knowing the ending of this film may cause you to feel impatient as you wait for it to arrive – especially as the current movie eclipses the two hour mark. One of the interesting aspects of this particular remake is that there appears to be an underlying meta-textual narrative within the film. A Star is Born may be trying to communicate that Bradley Cooper has found a star in Lady Gaga if she does in fact blossom into a bonafide movie star. Another possibility in terms of a meta-narrative is that a star may have been born in Bradley Cooper as a director due to this being a fine directorial debut. While flawed, A Star is Born is a good movie. It is a good movie with a lot of passion behind it. This is truly a well-intentioned remake. Despite it being the third retelling of the story, it remains a powerful, heartbreaking and ageless tale about addiction, fame, celebrity, art, dreams, lust, and sacrifice. I highly recommend it.